SIX years after the disastrous decision to ban Australia’s live export of cattle to Indonesia, a class action starts in the Federal Court this week to seek justice for the families and businesses of the northern cattle industry affected by the episode.
On June 7 2011, the Federal Government and the then minister for agriculture, Joe Ludwig, closed the live export trade to Indonesia, a trade critical to the livelihoods of northern cattle producers.
In a landmark case, the court will consider evidence gathered from more than 100,000 pieces of evidence including details from emails, telephone conversations and memos from within government and the minister’s office.
The Government has conceded that loss has been suffered and the court will consider the evidence of detriment from key industry sources including lead applicant, the Brett Cattle Company, in order to establish a case of misfeasance on the part of federal Minister Ludwig.
The industry will argue that in enacting the second export control order, closing the live export trade, minister Ludwig misused or abused his power as minister for agriculture. The minister must give evidence to explain the decision that has caused so much damage to the North.
If successful, this will be the first time a case of misfeasance has been proven against an Australian government minister.
“The importance of this case cannot be understated and the message it sends to government is powerful,” said the Northern Territory Cattlemens Association chief executive, Tracey Hayes.
“What happened in 2011 cannot be allowed to happen again. Governments need to know that knee-jerk reactions like that in 2011 have no place in good government, our agricultural export industries and the lives and businesses of the northern cattle industry,” Ms Hayes said.
“The whole justification for the live export ban of 2011 was supposedly about animal welfare, although their own documents now prove they knew that was not the case. What we are likely to hear is how the decision was about political survival for a minority government,” Ms Hayes said.
“Unfortunately, while this occurred under a Labor government in 2011, the current government have not been the model litigants as promised by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, making us fight for every shred of information. As the AGS has not met the model litigant guidelines, vital discovery materials remain outstanding, including materials from the minister himself.”
The claimants had been prejudiced by the delay in discovery, but wished to continue to have the matter heard on the current timetable, Ms Hayes said.
The case, being fought with the support of the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund, will be heard in two parts – liability from 19 to 28 July, and the calculation of loss from 11 to 15 December.
The Federal Court’s Justice Rares has indicated that the matter should be heard and determined as soon as possible so that any compensation is awarded and distributed to those effected.